Sunday, October 1, 2023

New Issue! Cholla Needles 82


Edited by Philip Kobylarz & Sabrina Barreto

Cover art by Juan Luzuriaga

Issue 82 creative authors:
Lisa Wenzel
George Wallace
Sonja Swift
Karen Brennan
Rosa De Anda
Juan Luzuriaga
Doren Robbins
Nancy Lee Melmon
Diane Frank
Florence Weinberger
Hillary Martin

Friday, September 15, 2023

Writing Meditation by Greg Gilbert on Sun House

Sun House by David James Duncan
Meditation by Greg Gilbert

This is not a review of David James Duncan’s Sun House, more a Writing Meditation of gratitude. Sun House is a looong booook, which is one of its many attributes.


The novel’s length matters because it engulfs the reader in an immersive experience, “immersive” as in sensory and extrasensory stimulation. Sun House is rhythmic and embodies various forms of meditation, worship, prayer, awe, reverence, and zazen. An oceanic rhythm carries the lives of the characters as they experience duhkha, Sanskrit for suffering; discovery, and moments of satori, the genuineness of each passing moment, the eternal NOW.


When a boy’s mother dies, we embody his rage as he bicycles wildly through traffic. When a young Jesuit descends into a crises of faith, we suffer with him. As characters fall in love, the writing swells with their passion, becomes romantic, hopeful, euphoric, and at times disillusioned. In chapter length effusions of satori, Duncan surrenders his mindful prose to celebratory releases that lift away from the page like sea mist. These are important rhythmic, meditative elements in a book that is itself an experience. Think of breathing, taking it in and releasing it, becoming lost in thinking and then releasing your thoughts. Think of becoming enmeshed in the natural world, of being tested by it, physically enduring its challenges, and then finding release in its glaciated summits and healing waters.


In his afterwards, the author explains that our divided world calls for celebratory answers rather than ceaseless condemnations. Sun House is rich in information about the earth, its dwindling gifts and enduring miracles. The earth is as much a character as anyone in this epic story. Sun House is a love song to the natural world. Duncan reveals the musicality and interconnectedness in all things, wind, rain, and high altitude thermal ponds. His writing sings of the music in dulcimers, folk singers, electric guitars, human voices, and the natural world, all of it without cliché because his writing is centered in the authentic experience.


The author gave 16 years of his life to creating this gift, and among my friends are those who have awaited his new book as though it were a visit from a long separated loved one. Sun House is a smart, funny book, one that satisfied my longing for the wit, humor, and earth loving reverence of Ruth Ozeki, Richard Powers, Charlotte McConaghy, Herman Hesse, TomRobbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder (ants and pebbles / In thethin loam), Thoreau, Rilke, and too many others to name here. Sun House is aname for the earth.

If you give yourself the gift of this book, you will be paying it forward for David James Duncan and all of us who yearn for a time of healing.

-  -  -  -  -

Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

More info

Monday, September 11, 2023

Book Review! Our Lady of the Perpetual Desert by Alexandra Martinez

With a title such as “Our Lady of Perpetual Desert” I almost expect a miracle story, an apparition of prophetic witness; a good pinch of mystery, something hovering in the realm of sacred text. I am pleased to report that Alexandra Martinez’s 2021 Hillary Gravendyk Prize-winning poetry collection more than delivers on these expectations.

In the opening poem “Conroe, Texas” the poet recalls vignettes from middle school with her friend Bree “walking the deer path and smoking cigarettes.” On the one hand Bree shares her dad’s coveted box set of Led Zeppelin’s BBC sessions cautioning, “Be careful with this, man, if my dad knew I was sharing this with a Mexican he would kill me.” The poet, on the other hand, wonders if the dad knows about the cigarettes? Bree also tells the poet “she had sex with some boy and was maybe pregnant but she has thrown herself down the stairs and her sister had punched her in the stomach for good measure/ but maybe tomorrow after school we could take a bus to the clinic maybe.” The poem starkly evokes many coming-of-age dilemmas for adolescent girls who are left to navigate these life altering events on their own with no recourse but to throw themselves down a flight of stairs or have their sister gut punch them “for good measure.” Maybe it’s how the poem ends with an inquisitive “maybe” but it left me wondering and wanting more: what happens to Bree? Is she pregnant? Theu reader is left holding the question unanswered, to speculate and to sit in the discomfort of not knowing. Such are the developmental tasks of middle school girl children these days. Of course I was left wanting more, not so much for the poem itself but more and better for the lives of middle school girls.

This line of thought leads me to the poem “CENTO TO KEEP YOU ALIVE” in which the poet speaks of “ALWAYS THE NEED TO WANT TO KNOW WHAT COMES NEXT.” This poem which is printed ALL IN CAPS and is placed practically in the middle of the book says something to me of the central importance of this eight line poem. Borrowing lines attributed to Marwa Halal, Werner Herzog, Nick Flynn, Kaveh Akbar, Charles Bukowski, and Ada Limon, the poet pieces together a kind of litany for survival that antidotes the tendency to numb out, with the need/want to know what happens next. “SPEND THE YEAR DRINKING IN/ THE DESERT. KNOW THAT YOU ARE UNENDING.” I take the phrase “drinking in” in two ways: one is an alcoholic’s wet dream, the other is one of total immersion, soaking in the desert landscape, letting it hold, sustain and become you. Therein lies any and every sense that we are unending, beings of perpetual desert.

Issues of race, class, sex, family, cultural identity, spirituality, immigration, violence, plights of the unhoused and unemployed, and environmental degradation are matter-of-factly addressed throughout the text. The immigrant farm worker experience is central to such poems as “Citrus Is My Only Home,” “Citrus,” “Las Golondrinas,” “The Blue Stove,” “The Girls in the Kitchen” to mention a few. “Citrus Is My Only Home” combines the bitter and the sweet. “Back then” the author’s uncles “had to eat wet dog food while working in the fields/ they put it on the stove and wrapped it up in a tortilla!/ Can you believe that shit?” Her dad knows the difference- “To bite into an orange is not the same as to cut/ into an orange is not the same/ as to pick an orange.” And it is certainly not the same for the author’s generation as she and her sister “now squeeze the oranges over our heads/ Let the yolks drip down/ And take turns/ Baptizing each other in the sea.” Imagine the trajectory and meaning of oranges in their lives, across generations, the family history - from the sweat, salt, blood, sweet and bitter flavors, the moldy decay — a fruity sacrament eaten whole - rind, pulp, juice, seeds.

Word portraits of several intriguing characters contribute to the raw poignancy of the collection, eliciting what may perhaps be the composite multi-faceted title figure of Our Lady of Perpetual Desert. From the coin-snitching aunty in “Mexican Piggy Bank”; to her parents in “Las Golondrinas” who “go to church every Sunday, not together/ but united in the Holy Spirit.” In “Fuck the Clock” she gives a nod to Patti Smith while paying tribute to the “patron saint of Butterflies,” Homero Gomez Gonzalez, environmental activist and manager of El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve who was murdered in 2020. With the poem “Yessenia Zamudio” the poet introduces the fierce feminist activist whose 19-year old daughter was murdered in 2016. “The thing to remember is that/ I am the hand that gently douses the back/ of a cop’s neck with gasoline./ I am the fingers that strike the match/ that sets him ablaze and as he’s/ rolling around in his own melt/ I am still moving like wildfire./ I become the spit that/ comes out of Yessenia Zamudio’s mouth.”  Zamudio, the activist who railed fiercely about injustices and the fact of increasing femicides and gender based violence, “What are we doing? Crying and sewing from our homes? Ya, well those days are over now.” The poet takes her on, Zamudio’s tenacious ferocity against injustice and the daily systemic terrorism perpetrated against women and girls globally.

Mixing the bitter with the sweet, the pain with the joy, to rail against the attraction of numbing out in difficult times - seems quintessential to the whole of Martinez’s sense of “Our Lady of Perpetual Desert.” In “La Cometa” she describes a moment with her sister, “I tasted dirt in my mouth and looked up/ as a comet came blazing past/ It was so close it lit up the entire field in front of us/ My sister and I, we reached our arms/ up in delight, and even now,/ swear we could touch it.” Later in the poem “Desert Star,” again with her sister “driving in the dry toxic heat/ Past the hospital we both saw a tall/ elegant feathered thing on the sidewalk./ A blue heron in this desert suburb./ We couldn’t believe it as we drove by/ It made me forget the tank was near/ Empty and neither of us will get paid/ This week. It made me forget the stench of/ Smog and the road rage look in my rearview.” Martinez reminds us that the desert is like that - with exquisite surprises of great beauty or joy in the midst of sometimes stark and toxic conditions.

Much as the beauty and pathos “Our Lady” offers, it comes with a cautionary caveat at the end in the final poem “The Wasteland.” The poem asks “Do people still think of the desert as a wasteland? What is a wasteland anyway?” The “answers” follow as further questions - “Is it a long avenue of/ warehouse/ after warehouse/ after warehouse? . .  . Lined with sidewalks where no one/ walks?” Is it the Interstate 10 freeway with all of its Amazon trucks? What is a wasteland anyway? “I’ve never gotten a delivery filled/ with rock formations,/ You could definitely order some white sage/ you could probably order some native plants./ You could probably pick two-day shipping for all these things./ But why would you when the wasteland is right outside your door.”

Yes, indeed, why would you? “Our Lady of Perpetual Desert” takes us to task for all the ironic conundrums we bless and curse about 21st century desert living.

Friday, September 1, 2023

New Issue! Cholla Needles 81


The dramatic cover art is by Bonnie Bostrom

The creative writing shielded within is by
Helen Gualtere
Donna Castañeda
Royal Rhodes
Leslie Palmer
Jacob Quint
Tobi Alfier
Duane Anderson
James Marvelle
Mark T. Evans
Michael Loyd Gray
Zary Fakete
and Bobby Norman

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Book Review: Strange Fle$h by Joe West

Strange Fle$h By Joe West
Anxiety Press (2023)

This book comes at you like a semitruck going the wrong way on the freeway.  And Joe West is not about to hit the brakes.  In some ways reminiscent of Bukowski, and in other ways reminiscent of Whitman, this story is shocking and repulsive on the one hand and tender and touching on the other.  Gritty and crass versus uplifting and sensitive.  The protagonist Frederick Bickel is a master of caustic observations and a fountain of unexpected yet hilarious descriptions.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel this entertaining or this good.  A slice of life account of blue-collar working class-struggle that questions why anyone suffers through it when the payoff at the end is always the same.  An exhilarating romp  through the American low life as it truly is.

By the author’s own admission, and the protagonist’s constant personal beratements we all learn early on that Freddie is not a nice person, is a class A fuck up, and doesn’t much give two shits about anything except for getting high, drunk, and laid; frequently all at the same time.  Freddie, who has just turned 50, is limping through life, and has come to expect very little good to come from it.  He frequently intimates that he doesn’t care whether or not he lives or dies, spends an inordinate amount of time contemplating suicide, and does as little as possible to change his station in life.  He works as a security guard at a high-rise office building in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri and has little to look forward to except for ogling twenty-something Sunday, a curvy stacked bombshell who works as the receptionist on the rarified ninth floor, and engaging in conversation with Thom, a homeless ex-radio deejay who inhabits a dumpster outside the building.  Sunday initially won’t give him the time of day, while Thom has all the time in the world that causes Freddie to find him endearing:

He smells like wine and cigarettes, firewood smoke, McDonald’s cheeseburgers with extra pickles, and chocolate pudding cups.  Thom is what I imagine Christ was like.  Just a good guy you could have a beer with, who made you feel better without making you feel like shit for it.  I cannot help but root for him.  We are both born losers, just with different jobs (p. 12).

While Sunday rubs shoulders with the corporate muckety-mucks Freddie knows that she may be in their world but she is not of their world.  He and Sunday have a lot more in common than she realizes.

There is a thin line between Sunday up here and me downstairs,  We are both merely needed, not necessary.  Someday we’ll both be replaced by the next generation of pretty idiots.  A workforce of ambitionless, brainless, borderline alcoholics yearning to have their lives predetermined for them by an all-knowing, all-powerful God called America.  Until then, we are just hoping for the best and preparing for the worst (p.23).

A third of the way through the narrative Freddie espouses his true feelings towards what it’s like to be a cog in the machine that is corporate America:

The corporate robots file into the lobby as they have programmed themselves to do since getting hired.  Everyone looks disappointed to be here yet again.  The saddest people that I have ever seen leave this building are the retirees on their last day.  Two-thirds of their lives comes to rest in a Banker’s Box accompanied by a sheet cake and a signed card.  There is no joy, no anticipation in their eyes for a hard-won freedom as they shuffle towards the front doors knowing they are never coming back inside (p. 73).

Freddie meets Sunday’s mom Jerusalem when he helps her take some boxes out to their waiting vehicle and mom immediately invites him to dinner.  Here the heartbeat of the story begins to thump as mom becomes revealed as a partier who revels in Freddie’s after dinner pot stash and shortly thereafter gets Freddie into bed.  It wasn’t very difficult on either count as Freddie is adept at scoring all manner of drugs and is blessed with being a sexual athlete capable of instantly achieving erections and occasionally experiencing multiple orgasms.  Sunday has a seven-year-old son Octavius who Freddie takes a shine to.  Soon Freddie is a fixture in their household, and the drinking and drugging is such that Sunday unwittingly climbs into bed with him and he unwittingly penetrates her while she’s half asleep thinking that she is Jerusalem.  He realizes his mistake, as does an annoyed Sunday, but both remain quiet about it, and Jerusalem remains clueless until Sunday turns up pregnant. 

Freddie is filled with remorse when Thom unexpectedly dies.  He pays for a meager pauper’s funeral and as it comes to a close, he questions his own existence through the lens of Thom’s life:

…He was looking for something that he couldn’t describe to anyone, but I figured it was what most men are looking for: the meaning, the reason for it all.  Why are we even willing to try and shovel the shit life gives us all in the first place?  Who the fuck knows is all I ever got by going down the rabbit hole, be it sober or tripping on psilocybin tea,

To discover life is meaningless is to declare insanity.  To admit this cosmic chess board we all move upon is nothing but a figment of our collective imaginations, that there are no rules, no God or grandparents waiting patiently for us when we die, is when the thin line between civilization and chaos disappears (p. 114-115).

A recently divorced and completely disgruntled mass shooter gets past Freddie one day, makes it up to the fourth floor, opens fire, and kills his ex-wife.  Freddie summons the courage to run towards the danger, sees the man kneeling over his victim, sneaks up on him, and severely strikes the man over the head with a fire extinguisher.  Touted as a hero, he is given a $15,000 reward, and life is good.  Easy living is not the forte off Freddie Bickle and he finds a way to screw it all up when he takes the two women to Las Vegas to get married as a threesome.  Now the hero is reviled on social media and shortly thereafter fired by the self-righteous office manager. Lost and rudderless he finds another job but hates every second of it.

Redemption of sorts occurs when Freddie wins a wrongful firing lawsuit and  gets hired back and elevated from security guard to receptionist.  Sunday decides that she doesn’t want to raise the baby and that she wants out of the threesome relationship altogether.  Now richer by $25,000.00, Jerusalem and Freddie decide to give it a go at raising the baby when it arrives and supporting Octavius in any way they can which they know is going to be difficult when it’s discovered that he is autistic.

The kid, though, is doing real good.  I got him into a private school for special needs children.  His teachers have found a shitload of problems: dyslexia, Autism, Add, and fucking depression.  How in the fuck can a little kid have depression?  But it’s all good.  These people take care of kids like him every day, they even got degrees in college just so they could.  Life never ceases to amaze me (p. 223).

From degenerate semi-drug addict and functional acholic to quasi-responsible step-grandaddy Freddie Bickle’s hero’s journey was rife with mistakes, fuckups, and misguided attempts at trying to help people so dysfunctional that they wouldn’t even help themselves.  He went from not caring if he died to having a reason to live.  At it’s core, this is a book about redemption, and it’s a fool’s errand trying to predict who is and who is not redeemable.  Someone has to be open to the idea of it, and when they are, fate never ceases to amaze any of us.

*  *  *  *

Reviewed by John Krieg
John Krieg has written many books. His recent book of five short novellas is entitled Zingers.




Tuesday, August 1, 2023

New Issue! Cholla Needles 80

Amazing cover by Douglas A. Blanc

The creative work inside is by:
Douglas A. Blanc
Rose Baldwin
Brian Harman
Bruno Talerico
Yuan Changming
Duane Anderson
James Marvelle
Roger G. Singer
Terry Firkins
Todd Shimoda
Jonathan Ferrini


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

New Book! SharkHeads by Peter Nash


This is the story of my 9 year music business career. It includes my memories of these vinyl heroes and mentors who colored my world while I grew up inside the business:

Henry Stone, Music Biz Legend and boss
Milt Oshins: Boss and teacher of how to get it done
Jerry Wexler: Atlantic Records producer
Joe Galkin: Manager of Otis Redding
and ButterBall: Hero DJ and adviser

I also share stories of some of the stars I met along the way, including

Elvis Presley
BB King
James Brown
Led Zeppelin
Rod Stewart & the Faces
Aretha Franklin
Allman Brothers
Dr John the Night Tripper
Sam & Dave
Ike & Tina Turner
James Taylor
Van Morrison
President LBJ
Bill Cosby

Plus a few names that I was down front or backstage with…
The Doors at Dinner Key (No, he didn’t pull his winky out)
Otis Redding
Hendrix at Monterey Pop
Ike & Tina Turner
Diana Ross

And special thanks to Sir Rich and Cholla Needles. He’s a music cat and gets it done.

Visit my work:

- Peter Nash

Also by Peter Nash & Cholla Needles:


New to the desert floor I feared rattlers and scorpions and thorns and tripping over the uncertainty under foot. Instead of taking in eye-level views I perceived mystery and danger hidden in the shadows. I came from the east, the land of paved paths below and wires above.

In the desert deep shadows hid the unknown. And then I heard the piercing rattle of death and that did it. My eyes guided my feet. I saw beauty not danger and never looked up till I recorded the darkness and light. The hidden world under foot in the desert. I still don’t look up, not from fear but the wonder of what lies below.

"My work is about love and endearment, without which none of my portraits would succeed. My gift is to capture what already exists without intrusion.” 

- Peter Nash